N. Markovits, D. Kurnik, H. Halkin, L. Guranda, A. Cohen, .M. Katz, D. Olchovsky, H. Mayan and R. Loebstein
Background: “Body packers” swallow multiple packets filled with illicit drugs, mainly cocaine, in order to smuggle them across international borders. In recent years, an increasing number of body packers have been hospitalized after their detention by the police upon arrival in Israel.
Objectives: To characterize the clinical features and outcomes of body packers hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective case series of body packers hospitalized between January 2010 and October 2012 in our medical center. Electronic medical records and imaging files were reviewed to extract clinical, laboratory and radiological data as well as details on medical treatments.
Results: We identified 23 body packers (mean age 38 ± 10 years), 20 of whom smuggled cocaine from South America. The number of packets transported ranged from 1 to 242 (median 42) and duration of hospitalization from 1 to 14 days (median 2). Two subjects required surgical intervention. All others were treated conservatively by polyethylene glycol-electrolyte lavage solution, laxatives, or watchful waiting. Ten patients underwent a urinary screen for illicit drugs, 7 of whom tested positive for cocaine and 2 for cannabinoids. Abdominal X-rays were performed in all patients at admission, and 14 had follow-up imaging, including abdominal CT scans without contrast media in 8.
Conclusions: The main treatment goals for body packers are the rapid excretion of drug packets and early detection of complications, i.e., drug intoxication and bowel obstruction. We suggest the use of a structured treatment approach for the in-hospital management of body packers.